St Catherine’s shows its support for organ and tissue donation campaign
St Catherine’s Hospice is helping to open up conversations around tissue and organ donation, whilst raising awareness that those with a life-shortening condition can still give – including the amazing gift of sight. Read more below about how we’re backing the LEP’s Giving the Gift of Life campaign.
“We know it was what our dad wanted, and can take great solace from that,” Peter Owens says.
“He’d had a donor card in his wallet since the eighties and we knew how important it was to him. But the conversations we had at St Catherine’s, both before he died and afterwards, helped to ensure that everything went to plan when the end did come. There is such a limited window of opportunity, it would have been awful to think we’d left it too late and his wishes weren’t met.”
Peter’s dad Bill died in St Catherine’s Hospice at the end of last year aged 67, following a 12 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Although the disease and treatment the Clayton Green granddad received meant his organs were not suitable for donation, his corneas – the part of the eye which acts as the outermost lens – had the potential to go on and have a new life with someone else. It means they could now be helping to give the amazing gift of sight – a legacy that Peter finds both comforting and inspiring.
“It is wonderful to think of the difference dad is still making, even though he is no longer with us,” he said.
“I think a lot of people wrongly assume that because they have cancer, or another terminal disease, that they can no longer give anything. But there is much more to organ sand tissue donation than heart, lungs and liver – corneas can make an incredible difference to someone’s life.”
As a fatal collision investigator with the police, Peter perhaps sadly knows more than most about the power of organ donation, and the process involved following the death of a loved one.
He has been there when people are facing the shock of the worst news imaginable, but has also witnessed the joy that a donated organ can bring to the recipient and their family – as well as the comfort it can provide to those who are grieving.
Peter – who now lives in Rossendale, but grew up in Eccleston and Croston – is passionate about encouraging people to have the difficult conversations with family about their wishes concerning organ and tissue donation, both to help make decisions easier for loved ones should that situation arise, and also to ensure that things happen the way you want in the event of your death.
“My job unfortunately puts me in contact with people who have been thrown into the awful situation of losing someone they love without any warning,” he said.
“It can be a very hard subject to broach at that time, but I have found it is rare that someone will take offence. What is more important is that people have the opportunity to donate their loved ones’ organs or tissue in time, so that they can be of use, if that is what their family member or partner wanted.
“Often asking that question will trigger a memory of their husband, wife, mum, dad, brother, sister, saying something about this, but what is even better is if they have already discussed this together beforehand, and the person is signed up to the donor register.
“Obviously it was a different situation for my dad and my family. The end meant the end of his suffering, and there was chance to talk about things and make plans beforehand. Having the support of St Catherine’s staff, and knowing they would be on hand to ensure the right things happened at the right time when that time came, was really reassuring.”
St Catherine’s Hospice agrees that conversations are best held in advance and it’s why they are working to offer staff peer-led training and support about how to conduct these in the most effective and sensitive way possible when people come into contact with their care.
The work is being spear-headed by senior staff nurse on the in-patient unit Laura Schafer-Hall. Laura arrived at St Catherine’s in June 2014 after working on the intensive care unit at Preston Royal Hospital, meaning she too has extensive experience in dealing with the sensitive discussions surrounding tissue and organ donation.
“It has always been something that has interested me so I took on the role as an advocate in this area here at the hospice, and also act as the link nurse between St Catherine’s and the bereavement and donor support team at the hospital,” she explained.
“What we are working towards is opening up conversations about tissue and organ donation and making it part of those detailed discussions we have with every patient and their family around their advance care planning. We always involve our patients and their families in their end of life care plans and choices, finding out what is important to them and how we can help facilitate them. Tissue and organ donation is just another part of this and should be dealt with in the same way.
“There is a core team on the in-patient unit which is offering teaching and training to other staff in this area – both raising awareness of donation and the different ways that people might be able to help, but also building colleagues’ confidence in raising what can be a tricky subject. People can still feel there is a taboo tissue and organ donation and they don’t want to bring it up for fear of upsetting people. But our approach is not to judge or pressurise anyone – it is to inform people of the options available, and to give them the freedom and knowledge to make their own decision about what is right for them or their loved one. We are then in the best position to be able to facilitate that choice.
“Ultimately, it is another way that we work together with people to ensure they have choice and their wishes are met at this most poignant time in their lives.”
Whilst it is true there is a detailed list of inclusion and exclusion criteria for tissue and organ donation – depending on a person’s past medical history, their illness or the treatment they have undergone – Laura encourages patients and their families to speak out about their wishes even if they believe they won’t meet the criteria.
She said: “People living with cancer may think they can’t donate, and although tissue donation is excluded, they could still potentially enhance the lives of others by donating the cornea, a part of the eye. This can offer such life-changing benefits to people, helping to restore their sight, we really shouldn’t under-estimate what a difference people can make.
“Patients with other illnesses which are non-cancerous may be able to donate tissue – this can include heart valves to help babies with heart defects, skin to help people who require skin grafts after severe burns, and bone and tendons which can aid artificial joint replacements.
“Here at the hospice we want to support people to feel in control of all their decisions, at a time where they may feel that their illness is very much taking things out of their control. We want to help people have those important conversations in advance so that they can make an informed decision about what is right for them, and we want to support them every step of the way.”
To find out more about donating organ or tissue, contact the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Bereavement and Donation Team – click here for details.
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